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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

What does spirituality look like for me today?

I remember going on walks and hikes when I was young and feeling like I was missing all the sights. I was born with weak ankles. I've had around 19 sprains in my right ankle and 6 in my left ankle...well that's what I can remember. I was constantly having to watch my step because if I can roll my ankle on a flat sidewalk, I sure as hell am gonna roll it in the woods where there are tree roots and rocks and divots just waiting for my foot to slip into. So I'd walk with my head down, watching my step and I'd have to stop to look around if I wanted to see the beauty around me.

That's kinda what spirituality feels like right now. I've learned so many skills through this past year on how to live with and manage anxiety. I've grown to be able to trust my body again. However, my eyes are still on the trail- I'm not able to walk without my eyes watching where I step.

A normal day of managing anxiety and depression is a constant list of checks and balances. I'll be working at the coffee shop making drinks and all the sudden I'll cue into the fact that my heart is racing and my chest is constricting. Is this a panic attack coming on? Do I feel anxious?- No. Did I eat breakfast?- No. Okay could be that. Did anyone say anything?- Ya I had a rude customer. Okay maybe that didn't help. Let me eat something see if that helps....And the day goes on...I feel funny. I feel a little low and somber. Am I feeling depressed or am I tired?- I think I'm just tired. So I take a nap. Maybe I feel better maybe I don't and so it's more questions, more soul searching. And that's ok. I'm watching where I step.

So where does spirituality fit into this? Well it's there, but in order to look around and see it beyond the footpath, I have to stop. My eyes need to be on the trail, otherwise I could risk getting hurt and not being able to enjoy any part of the journey so I stop. I take a break. I look around and I see Life. I've learned to schedule these stops and to place things around my house that help me stop; little reminders that cue me into looking up.

"Life" that's what I'm calling the Divine these days. YHWH, what the Jews used to describe God meaning "I Am", broken down is sandwiched in between the word "hey" meaning "to look, reveal, breath (1)." In fact to even say it properly is to inhale and exhale as you say its parts. Breath is life. Without breath we have nothing and this breath, this air, is all around us and in everything. Everything relies on it and is sustained by it. To be is to breathe and to breathe is life.

I've had to learn to just breathe again and breathing is one of the many ways that I've learned to manage and calm the anxiety and depression and panic. I'm just breathing through the day and sometimes I get to stop and take deep breaths and experience Life in the breaths. Sometimes I get to take my eyes off the trail and see things that fill my lungs. Regardless this is Life. This is my life. This is breathing. This is my spirituality.

(1) http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/m/alphabet_letters_hey.html

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why I'm Fucked Up

On this road of healing on a wholistic level- not just mentally and emotionally, but physically too- one of the things I've done is change my diet; I cut out gluten and refined sugar. I've visibly and physically noticed a lot of Ppositive changes; pain in my joints has gone away, I'm loosing weight, having more energy, etc. But an unforeseen byproduct of cutting those things out of my diet (in attempts to heal my body to be able to absorb vitamins and nutrients that help fight against anxiety and depression) is that it's resulted in having a very sensitive stomach. Now when I ingest gluten or refined sugar, it wreaks havoc on my body. It's not that it wasn't wreaking havoc on my body before, it was just tolerated and the toxicity was far less obvious and therefore the damage was much deeper. I have this app that reminds me of social media posts that I've posted on that day years ago. Right now a lot of what's been coming up have been posts reminding me of how hard I tried to make it work in YWAM. Posts like, "I love my YWAM family"... "Dreaming with the staff"... "Excited for what God's doing at YWAMSA" ... "Listening to Brazilian music and writing newsletters to supporters."... But it wasn't working. What those posts don't say is that every single night I struggled to not chug a bottle of port I kept handy. What those posts don't say is how I cried constantly. What those posts don't say is how angry I was from not being heard by God or by my leaders- how powerless and voiceless I felt. Those posts don't update followers on how I punched a wall so hard I nearly broke my hand. Those posts aren't letting people know that I completely lost hearing in one of my ears due to severe stress. Those status updates said what I wanted to be true, not what was my reality. Like having something in your diet that's doing harm to you; after awhile your body stops sending the immediate danger signals and your body adapts, but it adapts in ways that cause significant damage. I kept swallowing and pushing through all the red flags trying to make it work, taking the blame, blaming myself, punishing myself, trying harder, making excuses for everyone doing me harm; hell I even tried to learn about Brazilian culture and Portuguese so that maybe they would accept me and treat me better and I wouldn't feel so God damn alone. I kept doing all these things and eventually my body stopped sending the clear warning signs, the warnings were buried and its roots stretched deep and wide and grew into trauma- trauma that caused severe pain. And it wasn't until the pain became too much to bear that I was willing to cut that ingredient out of my life. This is why I'm fucked up. This is why I'm on medication. This is what gave me PTSD. This is why I have panic attacks and depression that besiege without mercy. This is why I'm in counseling and seeing a psychiatrist. There are as many reasons and influences as to why I felt the need to try so hard to make it work in YWAM as there are leaves on a tree. It was bad teaching, it was bad leadership, it was false obligations, it was a dysfunctional view of God and self, it was lack of self worth and self care... it was a hundred different toxic, depreciating, unhealthy, stunting beliefs. The pain I feel at present are the lingering consequences of daily choices made years and years ago. Take away the consequential PTSD and I have a beautiful life. Take away the panic attacks and the depression and I LOVE my life. We all have to live with the choices we made in the past, but the ones that I find hardest to live with are the choices we made that were influenced by people who maybe didn't know any better and were made because we ourselves didn't know any better. Because now that the main ingredients are gone, I'm so much more sensitive to the immediate warning signs... but oh the damage they did when they were swallowed a hundred fold. Take care friends. Trust yourselves.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What if Jesus isn't all I need?

I'm reading this book called "How to be Happy (or at least less sad)" by Lee Crutchley. A man came in the coffee shop where I work today, saw the book I was reading and proceeded to tell me how I have no reason to be sad, followed by evangelizing me. 

What he doesn't know is that I have plenty of reasons to be sad- some from past trauma and some reasons created by chemical imbalances. How could he know that? He couldn't. No one knows the struggles another person faces. All the more reason to heed our words. 

That man trying to evangelize me reminded me of so many others within the church who believe that depression is the absence of faith or trust in God (which is ignorance at best). He told me that if I have Jesus I have all I need. Well when you struggle with mental illness Jesus doesn't feel like all you need. 

When you have a mental illness like depression and/or anxiety all of the sudden you need doctors, counsellors, psychiatrists, and supporters. All of the sudden you need medicine, you're lacking chemicals and vitamins in your body and your brain. All of the sudden you need healing, rest, boundaries, space, time, patience, and help like you've never needed it before. And yes, I believe that God is the Captain of such things, but when you're trying to live and not just survive it feels like you need a lot more than just Jesus. No one knows why, but sometimes God heals by way of prayers, but sometimes God heals by way of a journey; a journey that can involve friends, family, and strangers, medicine, time, and pain. 

In my depression and panic disorder I have come to know El Roi "The God Who Sees". (As named by Hagar in the desert while she was dying of thirst). He sees how little I have to give. He sees my overwhelming need. He sees the depression and the panic before it hits and He sees me shriveled up when it comes. He sees me. And He gets it. And I have found that He's not just here with me but He's really okay with me as I am while I'm here. He's not in the corner wishing and waiting for me to get back up on stage and lead worship again, He's not expecting my healing to come faster than it is, He's not pressuring me to return to places of pain, and yet He's not okay with my present pains. He sees me. He sees how badly I want to be whole. He sees how deeply I struggle to come to terms and peace with my past; things I've seen, things that were done to me, and things I did to myself. He sees how impatient I can be with my own healing and He makes me feel like it's all ok and it's all going to be ok. He really sees me. 

Some define humility as being aware of one's great need. Nothing will get you there so fast as depression and anxiety. You can have God and still have really shitty circumstances. Yeah I need God, but right now I need a lot of other things too and whereas I believe He is the author of the good things I need it doesn't change the fact that it's okay to need the things that help you. I think it's okay to say, I need God but I also need you fill in the blank. Because that's the reality we see and that's what it feels like.

Maybe that's why it's so hard to reach out for help as a Christian because we are taught that God is all we need??? When maybe we need counseling, or medicine, or prayer. Idk. I recently heard a story of a missionary in Africa who refused to take preventative medicine against malaria. People all around him and his family are dying of malaria and he says, "No, God will take care of us." He gets malaria, "It's okay," he says refusing treatment, "God will heal me." He dies leaving a wife and children behind. I think it's okay to have more needs than just one. We are only human and He sees us anyway. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Listening



I distinctly remember writing this. I remember standing by my bed, looking in the mirror, looking around me, trying to will myself to be in Australia with YWAM even though everything inside me was screaming it was a mistake. And so I wrote this. But what I was really saying was, "I don't want to be here." 

In a Christian culture that had taught me to distrust my inner thoughts, my instinct, and my feelings- that the flesh is weak and fallen and must be tuned to the rhythm of submission- those inner warnings didn't stand a chance against the guilt and shame that forced my hand to obey. I'm thankful I know better now. 

Isn't it interesting how we believe we are "redeemed" and yet we can have such distrust and resent toward our humanity? Or how we believe that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" and yet we are so harsh towards our nature?

I not only had to experience the consequences of not listening to my inner self those years ago in Australia, but I would experience them again four years later when I was tired of grieving those consequences. I drew a line in the sand of my life, I said that I was tired of being angry and frustrated at the church- I was tired of grieving- and so I stuffed it/ buried it and went about my life, but my life reacted to the inner stifling. It responded with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. What I've since learned is that our "flesh" doesn't doesn't like to be ignored or resented. 

Our flesh (our emotions, our thoughts, our inner being, our inclinations, our nature,...) loves and needs to be cherished, accepted, embraced, loved, and nurtured. That doesn't mean that all within is as it needs to be, but nothing can be altered until it is accepted completely and unconditionally as it is. We would never dream of treating a child with the same contempt with which we regard our "flesh" which is namely ourselves. It is not kind, nor is it well, to disregard something the One we call Father loves so deeply. 

If we truly believe we are loved that has to be a whole package deal. Can you love yourself not despite your faults but with them? Can you love yourself not despite your weaknesses but with them? Can you even learn to love those things that humble you and make you human? It doesn't make it alright, it makes you present and only when you are truly present can you even begin to be whole. But first you have to listen.


Monday, June 27, 2016

Okay is Perfection

Five years ago to the day I was accepted into YWAM Adelaide in South Australia. I had no idea what I was in for. I was nervously and stubbornly trudging on ahead because in my heart of hearts I knew Australia was my way of making a square peg fit in a round hole, but staying still wasn't an option and so I rationalized my way to Australia. 

I should have known that good things weren't waiting for me when, on my flight to Australia, I was woken by the guy next to me masturbating. (No joke) But I would know. The moment I landed I knew I had made a mistake. As I walked onto the base for the first time I knew I was not where I was supposed to be. And yet, despite this knowledge burning within me, I would do everything within my power to silence the warnings I named "Doubt" and "Weakness". 

It's been 5 years. Since then I have become intimately acquainted with grief, pain, anxiety, and depression. And in my usual fashion, I tried to power through on my own. Healing seemed utterly impossible. Five years later, I am a moving picture of healing. 

"I think you're over the hump of it." my counselor said. "I'm glad to see you back to normal." "Normal?!" I thought. I haven't felt normal in so long. For so long I've been in survival mode. For the first time, in what feels like ages, I can breathe without panic clutching my lungs stealing my breath and my peace. 

And yes I'm medicated. It's all part of the healing. I'm still seeing a psychiatrist and counselor, furthering the healing. It's not over. It never is. I still have triggers I'm learning to overcome. Some memories still provoke me. I'm ok with it. This is life. It's messy and it's painful, it's beautiful and mysterious, and it's the only one I've got. It's not the absence of pain, mess, anxiety, or depression that brings one back to normalcy, it's learning how to manage those things rather than being managed by them that reacquaints one with what normal feels like. It's the difference between tornadoes that you can only hope to survive and hurricanes that you plan for and track. 

Life has become much simpler for me. It's no longer about striving towards greatness. I'm not demanding a legacy. I'm okay with just okay. I no longer have the desire, urge, or pull to be a martyr for God. If I am only ever remembered as a sister, a daughter, and a friend...well that's a damn good life. I'd love to add wife and mother, aunt and grandmother to that list one day. I'm content to just live for the moments. I'm content to eat, drink, and be merry. I'm content to take pleasure in all my toil. In fact I'm far more than content, I'm completely and utterly blessed. Because when you've been in the trenches of surviving, waring against a siege of trauma, normal is beautiful, simple is elegant, okay is perfection. 

Dum vivimus vivamus- While we live let us live

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

First Assembly Failed Me

Disclaimer: No church is perfect, but no church is above reproach. 

Yes, my former youth pastor, who had known me since I was 15 years old, told me to leave his church, my former church, First Assembly of Gainesville, FL now known as "Greenhouse." A church that was willing to support me financially during my two years on the mission field, yet unwilling to support me emotionally or spiritually when I returned broken and disarrayed. I think they wanted me to return in glory, glowing from the mission field, and instead I returned bloody and pale. And so I fell from the summit of "Christian greatness" and with that falling came layers of excommunication. 

Where once mothers had begged me to spend time with their daughters, to "disciple them" that they might learn from my "example"; now they were steered away with hushed rumors and false sympathy. 

Where once microphones, pulpits, stages, and publications had been offered to me to speak and share of my experiences on the mission field- now I was labeled as dangerous; one that needed to be monitored at a safe distance because of my questions and "failings". 

Where once homes had been opened to me, meals and friendship shared- now I was literally shown the door and asked to leave; my doubts and thoughts seeming too toxic for proximity. 

Where once my voice and opinions had been welcomed, now I was labeled as a heretic and one that needed to be quarantined. 

I went from the topic of conversation and the beloved subject of inspiration to a name on VIP prayer cards; one that needed to be reached and saved. 

As I've heard it so excellently put, I was "forced to trade belonging for authenticity" and in the trade I lost the only home church I had ever known, respect, friendships with years on their roster, and all support that came with it. 

I came back from the mission field because it failed and because the life it demanded failed me. Plain and simple- it didn't work for me. It was the most unnatural contortion I have ever put myself through, one that has taken me years to unravel. For a long while people would ask, "So what's next? When you going back?" My answer was that I had no idea what was next but that I had no intention of ever returning to missions work. Bewilderment met optimism and tried to extend to me the benefit of the doubt, "So you just mean that what you're doing now you just consider your ministry/mission field right?" My solemn reply was, "No, no I do not. I think I'm just going to live and just be. And I think that's enough for God." 

First Assembly picks its heroes that's for sure, people they put on parade before the congregation to say, 'Look at them. Follow their example. Be inspired by them. Etc' Such expectations and pressures are as debilitating as they are choking. I've seen heroes rise and fall and with every fall they are swept under the rug and turned away. Once you have been deemed one of the "Christian elite", any falling or failure is thus deemed weakness and the fault is entirely on you. So quickly, or one by one, your patches are removed and eventually you are removed as well. 

If I sound bitter, forgive me, but I am not, I am weathered. The excommunication proved disappointing and painful not because of the fall from the church's pedestal, but because of the many friends who turned me away because of it. Their excommunication hurt far more than First Assembly's perhaps because in so many ways I had seen it coming from the church. In fact, by the time I was asked to leave, I had already figured out that I had no place there. No, what still disturbs me is the same harsh reality that we see with our soldiers- they are sent off to war in glory and honor, but have very little help waiting for when they return battered and bruised from the service we applauded them for. 

It's such a pandemic amongst churches to send people off to be missionaries and fail them when it comes to their post-traumatic care that there are books written for missionaries to prepare them to return to a home-church that has no idea how to receive them. They're feeble attempts to prepare you for the feelings of betrayal and abandonment that actually await you. 

When I came back, I begged for a meeting with my head pastor and my former youth pastor. I needed serious help, but I was denied any such meeting so as not to "bother them" and was instead arranged a preliminary meeting with the missions director at the time to determine if further meetings were required (meetings I never got). I met with her and shared with her my story, a story which fell on deaf ears and was instead retorted with opportunities where I was expected to serve in the church while I was back. I asked her, "I just have to know, why me? Why did First Assembly support me financially?" And she said that the simple answer was because she felt like God told them to. I suppose the greater underlying question I was really asking was, "Why did you support me financially if you have no intention of supporting me now?" 

Churches, not just First Assembly, are excellent at sending people out yet terrible at receiving them. The Church has very little knowledge on how to deal with the brokenness of others because its members have very little knowledge on how to deal with their own. The demand on what you can do, what you can produce, is so high and yet the mortality rate of such demands is grossly higher.

I didn't leave First Assembly bitter or frustrated, however I became increasingly so when I found myself inside the walls of a safe church that did know how to care for me. It was the contrast of seeing how well church could be done that made me so frustrated at the church that, in hindsight, did me so wrong. 

It's an unfair system we are stuck in, one that honors your service and abandons your need in return. 

All you casualties of war need to know that it's a tragedy what was and is being done to you, you deserve better, you deserve to be cared for and loved well; you are worth infinitely more than what service you can provide, your worth is entirely separate from your works. You matter because you exist and there are those willing to love and care for you in the manner in which you deserve out there and I sincerely pray that you find each other. 

All you stuck in the system, I do not blame you but I would hold you to account. I ask you to do better. Be accountable for your actions and bear the repercussions of such actions with grace and tenderness. Don't treat their burnout as a failure on their part, not when your church and your theology demands so much of them. Recognize and honor their humanity. Do no shame and abandon those who ask you for help. Do not ask others to go if you lack the ability to provide a safe return. And you also deserve better care than you currently are receiving because none of us have it together; no one is exempt from being a casualty in this war we have created in our Christian culture. We all of us deserve better.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Heresy of Church

I grew up in church. I loved it, I hated it, and I fell in love with it again. I studied it and all its foundations in Bible College. I saw it from various angles and various countries. It has sheltered me, wounded me, expelled me, betrayed me, and welcomed me again. In it I have felt rooted and safe, vulnerable and exposed, and disconnected and estranged. In my heart I cry, "There's got to be a better way of doing church."

Some might contest that, 'it's not perfect, but it's the best we've got.' Of course it's not perfect, it's made up of imperfect people and church, at its core, is a community of believers. However, defending the way church is being done by pointing out its imperfect nature is not a means of addressing the problem or providing a solution. And saying 'it's the best we've got' almost implies that a new way isn't available to us and therefore one cannot abandon the current way. Some might even protest the very idea of questioning an institution far older than I.

These are all valid, but not enough to discredit the fact that for hundreds of thousands of people church simply doesn't work. In fact, for many it hurts. Who's to say a "better way" isn't out there?

“In a quip that makes the rounds, Jesus preached the coming of the kingdom, but it was the church that came. All these years later, the way many of us are doing church is broken and we know it, even if we do not know what to do about it. We proclaim the priesthood of all believers while we continue with hierarchical clergy, liturgy, and architecture. We follow a Lord who challenged the religious and political institutions of his time while we fund and defend our own. We speak and sing of divine transformation while we do everything in our power to maintain our equilibrium. If redeeming things continue to happen to us in spite of these deep contradictions in our life together, then I think that is because God is faithful even when we are not.”― Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

For ancient Jews there was one temple (temple being a house of assembly where prayers and sacrifices were offered) and there was the Sabbath. If one lived near the temple in Jerusalem, one may go to temple on the Sabbath to hear the reading of the Torah. However, if one did not live in Jerusalem they may only go to temple on a pilgrimage three times a year at most (once in the fall, twice in the spring).1

Then Jesus comes on the scene and shows people a new way of thinking and living. He starts talking about the temple being destroyed both literally2 and figuratively- in John 2 Jesus refers to His body as the temple and how it will be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.3 At the moment of His death on the cross the veil in the temple, separating people from the holy of holies, tears in two giving all access to God4; symbolically for both Jews and Gentiles.5

One temple is nullified and what do we do over the next thousands of years but erect another in its stead. For thousands of years we've been tweaking and reforming this "temple", but were we ever meant to build it in the first place? Have we resurrected walls that were torn down by God for a reason? We believe that we are all priests. We believe that our bodies are a temple for the Holy Spirit. And yet we insist that there is no better way to encounter God than in a church. Is that what Jesus taught? Is that what Jesus died for; to create a new church? Or was it to free us and open the doors?

People say this is the best we've got. No. No it's not. We've got a world- a giant canvas from which to learn about our Creator. We've got billions of people on this canvas made in the very image of God to learn from. Not to mention that His Spirit is living and working in us.

What if church is Creation? What if our house of assembly is our home, our town, our real life community? What if our spiritual family does not actually exclude, but rather include everyone? What if our brothers and sisters were of different faiths and practices? Is this heresy? "Heresy" being derived from the Greek word for "choice".6 Is the bigger question then, "What do you choose?"

"Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than a of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives. Some of us call that power greater than ourselves God. Some do not. Some people celebrate their spirituality in churches, synagogues, mosques, or other houses of worship, while others find divinity in solitude, through meditation or in nature. For example, I come from a long line of folks who believe fishing is church, and one of my closest friends believes that scuba diving is the holiest of experiences. As it turns out, our expressions of spirituality are as diverse as we are." - Brené Brown in Rising Strong

Now obviously a lot of people encounter God in church as we know it. Despite the growing number of people for whom church does not work, there are hundreds of thousands of people for whom church does work. I'm not suggesting that just because church may have not been God's intention doesn't mean that it isn't honored and utilized by Him. What I am suggesting, however, is that we consider taking the label "the way" off of our churches and instead replace them with "a way" of encountering and experiencing God and community.

Because after all none of us are perfect, from Adam all the way to the disciples of Jesus to our families. We get it wrong from time to time. It's ok to wonder if perhaps we got this idea of church wrong too. It's ok if it works for you and it's okay if it doesn't. It's okay if you choose to make the world your temple and I think it's okay if you choose to make church a temple for yourself. What do you choose?

"The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty." - Anne Lamott in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith 7

 

Footnotes:

1. Temple Culture by Shaye I.D. Cohen http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/portrait/temple.html

2. Mark 13; The Bible

3. John 2:19-22; The Bible

4. Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:37-38; Luke 23:44-46; The Bible

5. Romans 1:16; The Bible

6. Synagogues, Shuls, and Temples by Tracey R Rich http://www.jewfaq.org/m/shul.htm

7. Faith, Doubt, and Inspiration by Brené Brown http://brenebrown.com/2011/02/09/201129faith-doubt-and-inspiration-html/

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What does healing look like?

What does healing look like?

For so long it's been getting back to the way things should be- normalcy; normalcy and to have no more pain...That sounds an awful lot like heaven; that longing for the restoration of my humanity, the removal of pain, a sense that this is not how things should be. 

All of the sudden I feel far less removed from my humanity and far more joined to it. We all long for pain to be stripped away especially when we feel that pain has replaced our understanding of "normal". We all long for peace. And I know that such peace and restoration are available and are coming not just in this life, but the next.

Panic has made me desperate to never feel certain things again, but certain things demand to be felt in this life, pain being one of them. Pain demands to be felt- yes, but so does Love and Joy- those too demand to be felt. 

Have I truly believed that love and joy were available to me to be felt? Or have I, in my fear of feeling pain, believed pain was more available to me; have I believed more earnestly that pain overshadowed and dominated love, joy, and peace? Have I attributed more power to pain than those things for which I long?

So what does healing look like if pain demands to be felt and if feeling it is what joins us to humanity in the most sober union?

Perhaps pain is not to be feared, but expected- expected yet coupled with the firm hope and trust that this is not Love's intended story, nor is it this story's ending; one day pain will cease. Perhaps Love and Joy and Peace should be allowed the kingship today that they will one day hold for eternity. Perhaps healing looks like bringing this heaven to earth and adoring it as much as humanly possible. Perhaps heaven is where we make it. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter for the Anxious

It's Easter Sunday this weekend and I couldn't be more uneasy. All I have been able to think about for the past 2 weeks is the idea of stepping back into a church for the first time in months and the thought sends me into a lonely tower of anxiety I don't easily escape, while my nights have been filled with panic-stricken nightmares of trying to escape and run out of some church from my childhood. 

Sunday. It's approaching. And while the evangelical Christian realm is readying their flyers and proselytizing their church's Easter service, all I feel is dread. Dread over the songs that will be sung and the memories they will conjure. Dread over the lingo and the phrases that, all too often, were used and abused. Dread over having to be in an institution with all my questions and no answers. Dread over what panic may seize me. 
"How bad will it be? How long will it last?"

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Great. God knows the appreciation I hold in my heart for what Easter represents and means- meaning that is not lost in my anxiety. However, my anxiety is not subdued or lost in its great meaning either. 

For so many of us living with the consequences of spiritual trauma, Easter Sunday is not really a celebration- it's an anxiety attack. And whereas so many of us may have found a God that understands and is not offended by our pain and our fear of feeling it, that doesn't mean that others are not looking at us with worry in their eyes. 

I have never experienced an Easter Sunday like this. Easter is all about resurrection, but the resurrection I've become intimately acquainted with in this season is the resurrection of trauma long stuffed and pain long ignored. This is what I fear Easter Sunday holds in store for me, more painful resurrection. 

Sunday morning may end in a panic attack, but every morning has that chance. I know I can't be ruled by fear and I can't be ruled by what ifs. The struggle, however, is too too real my friends. 

This Sunday I'll be in church despite all my fears and anxieties. I may be asking for trouble, but it may be a great day. All I know is that I love my family and I choose to join them in this day. My mind will most assuredly be in a different place than the rest of the congregation. My thoughts will be divided between keeping the memories at bay and remembering all those who are in the same boat as me- us exiled battered seekers who, perhaps, this Sunday are just doing our best to survive the occasion. But take courage friends, if Easter shows us anything it's that the worst of struggles has an end; no pain lasts forever; and there's life on the other side...oh and multi-colored egg salad. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Is it too late now to say Sorry?"

Justin Bieber once asked, "Is it too late now to say, 'Sorry'?" ...all jokes that could be made aside, I wonder if sometimes it is.

When I think about the people who have inflicted the deepest and greatest wounds in my life, not a one of them ever gifted me with an apology. That does something to you. It certainly does something to the relationship, but it also does something to you. It's easier to forgive when one is asking for forgiveness, but even where it isn't asked for- forgiveness is still extendable. Forgiveness being that daily vitamin that one has to take over and over again until its nutrients overwhelm you and overtake you. But even where forgiveness has been and is continually being extended, that lack of an apology does something to you.

No one said, "Sorry" and therefore you were left alone. No one was on the other side of the hurt willing or wishing you to heal; in fact, there was someone on the other side who was omissive in your hurt. You had to become the bigger person. There was no hand offered to help pull you up the mountain of forgiveness in order to get closer to wholeness. (And for the record: Yes, I believe that Greater Love and The Healer is present and available to us in those times, how else could we climb, but I'm talking about human relationships here and no amount of godly presence can alter the pain of someone turning away- that loss demands to be felt and cannot be undone.) In not saying "sorry" they turned their back on your pain and that leaves a great deal in your hands to sort out and deal with.

And deal with it you did. You found your way (or are finding your way) up that mountain of forgiveness toward wholeness. You found your helpers and you found inner strength that you did not know you had. You found your way. That does something to you. You are not the same person. For better or for worse you are different and the lengths that you had to go to, the rocky terrain you had to face on your own, the darkness and despair you had to touch, taste, and feel- that does something to you.

At some point along that lonely mountain path you abandoned the need for "sorry", you found the strength to climb without it. At some point along that mountain path, those "sorry's" become invalid; they become more for the person who delayed the offering more than they could ever be for you at present.

I think about all the people who have inflicted the deepest and greatest wounds in my life and as much as I have clung to the injustice of their apologies withheld, I have no need for them anymore. To receive an apology would be a courtesy extended for their sakes, but the saying would be of little affect to me. Forgiveness has already been given whether they know it or not. For them to apologize and know it is given would be for their comfort and theirs alone. Why? Because I had to find mine another way. We all have.

And you know what? That's not the way it's supposed to be. That's not okay. That's not right. It's okay to be bothered sometimes. This is the harsh reality of freedom. We get to choose and there are consequences to those choices and not all consequences are felt by the correct parties in this life. Sometimes those consequences fall on the victims in a much harsher and more tangible and present sense than they do for the choice maker. Sometimes it is too late to say sorry. But if it's too late for sorry's perhaps it means you've arrived to some place of peace and there's encouragement to be taken from that. You made choices and that got you to the place you wanted to be even if all apologetic hands were denied. Despite someone else's choices to withhold, you now hold something precious and hard won. And that too does something to you.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

No one knows this garden like I do.

"No one knows this garden like I do."

That phrase kept replaying in my mind again and again as I weeded out the raised beds at my parent's home. When I first moved back from Australia, I took those raised beds on and I learned how to garden. When I knew I would be moving away I filled the beds with Florida native flowers that would continue to grow without needing excessive care. But the garden got overgrown and needed weeding. So on my last visit home I took to it. I could see where my mom had tried to pull some weeds and could tell that she got confused as to what was a weed and what was a plant. And how could she know? It wasn't really her garden.

"No one knows this garden like I do."

Since I took those raised beds on, I've watched and learned the seasons. I know what weeds are going to come up in the spring and what weeds are going to arrive in the summer. I know what they look like, what their roots act like. I know where to grab them to avoid getting stung. I know their tricks and how they like to hide among look-alikes. I also know what I've planted and where. I know what lies dormant and will come alive in its due time. And as I weeded those raised beds, my fingers remembering and finding their way about the soil, I pondered much as I always had.

Since anxiety decided to take a big bite out of my ass, one that forced me to pay attention and deal with it, I've been navigating counseling. So far I'm on counselor number two. Counselor 1 and 2, though entirely different, have taken a very similar approach with me- both have encouraged me to keep on the journey I've been on; both have made affirming me and my journey priority above giving correction or asking hard questions. To which my frustrated inner response has been, "If what I've been doing was working then why on earth am I seeing you?" The answer, I think, is that no one knows this garden like I do.

When I first took on those raised beds, every day was a lesson. Those raised beds were my Eden where I really sat and gleaned with God. One day as I was learning how to tell the difference between weeds versus something that was planted, I was struck by the tangible metaphor that was before me. Not only was I learning to decipher plants from weeds amidst the dirt and the leaves, but I was being taught how to decipher plants from weeds in the garden that is my story. There were so many things in my life that I uprooted because I was taught to believe that they were weeds and likewise, there were so many weeds I allowed to grow and to spread because I was taught to believe that they were true and good plants- plants planted by God. Here God was showing me things that He had planted and things that He did not plant, but had been allowed to grow and together we were on our way to restoring my garden. One of my counselors keeps telling me that I'm on my way and that I've been on my way for some time now. Maybe what she's saying is that no one knows this garden like I do.

I still struggle immensely with trusting myself. After spending so much time in a christian culture that capitalizes on humanity's wretchedness and fallen nature, it takes a while to de-program and let trust and affirmation permeate every facet of your life. I like to think that I got in this cave of anxiety and depression because of some failing of my own, but the truth is that life happens and every patch of dirt has its own weeds and struggles. I just need to trust my fingers to know the difference; to know when to uproot and when to wait. I need to trust that I know the difference between weeds that choke and destroy and plants that bless and enrich. I need to trust myself and rest in the beautiful truth that no one knows this garden like I do and the reason that I know it so well is because He has met me here and is ever present.

Perhaps the greatest instrument of healing I have amidst my pages of trauma, having been led to believe one thing or another about myself, is to know myself better and be able to weed out the lies with my own two hands.

No one knows this garden like I do.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Day After "It'll hurt but it will heal"

When I wrote out my story, I had no idea if I would publish it or not. I've written my story out numerous times, most ended up being deleted or torn up which was quite cathartic at the time. But I sat with this one. I raked over it again and again trying to decide in my mind if it was wise to share it publicly.

Yesterday I posted my story titled "It'll hurt but it will heal" not believing that many would read it. Almost 300 people did; breaking a new record for my little blog. You can read it here: "It'll hurt but it will heal"

I had anticipated that there would be those who would disagree and find it distasteful and, perhaps, even shameful my being so bold in naming the places that hurt me. I knew there was a risk that it would offend and I knew there was a risk that it would eventually reach the ears of those leaders whom it described. I had not anticipated that it would reach them so soon, nor did I anticipate or prepare myself for how I might handle them contacting me.

Some of my abusers made contact last night for the first time in almost 4 years. The intention of their message, it seemed, was not to ask for forgiveness or empathize, but to (in their own way) attempt to discredit my experience; refusing once again to acknowledge the damage done.

Their contact took me back to a place and a state I have been trying to leave for the past 4 years. I felt cornered, vulnerable, and under attack again. I once again felt like the victim that I was under them. Their very words bringing a whirlwind of pain and memories I had long since forgotten, making it all feel as fresh as the day I left. Though I was and am a victim of their abuse, I will not cower in the corner again. I am not the girl that I was and I will not have my voice taken away again.

When a person commits a crime of a sexual nature, they are put on a sex offenders list that everyone might be aware of their crimes and the harmful acts that they are capable of. No one in their right mind would ever condemn a victim of sexual abuse for speaking out and her speaking out leading to her offender being labeled as such; no one except the offender perhaps. But when one commits acts of spiritual abuse, more often than not, the victims are shamed (most times) right out of the church for attempting to disgrace or dishonor a "man (or woman) of God".

Friends, victims of whatever abuse have every right to speak up and should never have their voices taken away. The very reason I wrote and shared my story was so that others may find their voices in it; that maybe through reading and seeing their church named or their school named or their organization named that they may find the courage to speak out and take a stand against their own abuse.

You can't discredit someone's personal experience no matter how hard you try. You weren't there for every moment of it. You didn't hear every word spoken. And you certainly didn't feel what they felt. Their experience is valid because it is their experience. Whether pain or abuse was intended has very little to do with the pain or abuse that was felt. And pain that is felt cannot be talked away or discredited anymore than it can be unfelt.

When those people contacted me last night, regret and panic poured into my system. I wished I had never written or shared my story. The vividness of my pain and the memories it awakened made me deeply regret having made myself so vulnerable, but they are not who I was writing to and they are not who I am writing to now. It is not for the abusers that I share these very personal and intimate details of my story, but for the abused and for those who are living amongst abuse. I wrote these things and will continue to write so that what was hidden may be touched by the light. It's for the hope of redemption. For our hope of the restoration of all things.

I named my story "It'll hurt but it will heal" and it's hurting so...it must be healing.

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I want to thank every single person who has commented or contacted me, showering me with praise and affection. I want to thank all those who have, in turn, shared their stories with me and who have made their time and their heart available to me. Your words and affirmations and support make the telling worth it and I'm so thankful for all the support of those willing to journey with me through this.

 

To read more about dealing with victims of spiritual abuse read: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/what-not-say-someone-who-has-been-hurt-church

 

"It'll hurt but it will heal"

If you've followed my blog for any length of time you are probably aware that when it comes to church or Christian culture...we've had a rough relationship. Well, a few months ago I was officially diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which explained the anxiety, depression and constant panic attacks I was experiencing. Here's how I got there:

I was raised in a very open minded home. I was taught by my parents to think for myself, to trust my gut, and to be independent and strong. We church-hopped a lot growing up- something I have always been incredibly grateful to because I felt that it instilled in me an acceptance of various ways to follow God as well as a belief that one follows God not a church, tradition, or denomination. Eventually that led us to a growing church in Gainesville, FL called First Assembly where the passion and energy was completely contagious. I quickly got involved in the youth group, as I was only 15 at the time, and it wasn't before long that I was completely absorbed in that church's culture; I breathed and bled their way of thinking, speaking, and moving. Some of us even called ourselves "First-Assemblians". We used to say that First Assembly had ruined us for any other church...in a way they did, just not in the way we thought.

When I turned 18 I left for a small bible college in a tiny town full of suburbians and retirees; the college's claim to fame was that Billy Graham attended the college back when it was called "The Florida Bible Institute" which is now known as Trinity College of Florida. I went there to major in missions. Planned to graduate in 4 years, marry, move overseas, and die overseas as a missionary; I honestly didn't believe I'd live past the age of 25 holding martyrdom as the highest accolade a Christian could receive. There were only around 200 students in the college and only about 30 or more women attending. In that college I encountered the exact opposite of how I had been raised. Here I encountered students and professors alike who fully believed that women could not hear from God and had no business in ministry except behind their husbands. I was denied scholarships, leadership roles, and was a subject of student protest because of my gender. I changed my major to counseling within the first few weeks of my freshmen year as I could not respect a presiding professor who publicly shamed his students and prayed over his student's papers to discern their grades rather than holding them to any grading scale. I was put through the ringer and denied repeatedly both when I tried to change my major from missions to counseling and again when I tried to change my major from counseling to an associates of science that I might graduate earlier and go live and work overseas. I was laughed out of the office when I told the admissions counselor I was leaving to go work as a missionary; his response was, "But you're not married." I remember reaching out to my former youth pastor from First Assembly on one of my weekends home from college. I was baffled by such gender beliefs within Christianity, having never encountered it in my life before, and was attempting to process this him. His response was that I should be careful because I was "verging on becoming a pharisee."

I left at 20 years old to join an organization that was recommended to me as much as I was cautioned against called Youth With A Mission (aka YWAM). Initiation into the organization is a 6 month long course called a Discipleship Training School (aka DTS). I chose mine to take place in Auckland, New Zealand because it had a focus on social justice- a field I was determined to pursue. I spent 3 months in New Zealand studying and preparing for the 3 months myself and others would spend in Thailand working directly with victims of sex tourism. It was a darkness I have never encountered the like of since and one I never wish to revisit... Once one completes their DTS they can then move on to other courses or become a staff member of a base (the center for YWAM ministries and schools within a city). I chose to continue on as a staff member in Adelaide, South Australia and staff there under the invitation to help start a music ministry. I had no idea what I was really walking into.

I walked into the middle of the splitting and dividing of a base; staff were being divided to go and start another base in Tasmania and new staff had been brought in to replace them myself (unknowinly) included. Tensions were high and the dividing line between the two "sides" was clear. I was one of a few single staff members to who it was made completely clear that YWAM bases run on the backs of. We were over-worked and left to fend completely for ourselves, having no tangible support from leaders who are meant to have weekly meetings to check up on and care for the emotional, spiritual, and mental needs of their staff. When I asked and even begged for such meetings I was told that it was impossible to do so for their staff and that I was demanding too much. As tension increased and times got tough for the base as a whole, the demon hunting began. It wasn't uncommon to be woken in the middle of the night to the shouts of our staff and leaders casting out demons around the property or performing exorcisms. It also wasn't uncommon to walk into various offices or areas of the base to find groups of staff and leaders casting out the demons that were oppressing the presiding staff member, causing stress and tension, and over-spending. Our debt, insufficient funds, and discord were all labeled as demonic attacks; attacks which could only be met by rigorous prayer and mandatory fasting. I was rebuked for saying I was sick (when in fact I was constantly ill due to the poor living conditions) and was accosted for "speaking curses." Similar accusations only followed the more that I began to speak up to the inconsistencies and the problems I saw which lead to a growing frustration seeing how my concerns and questions were met with empty promises followed only by more empty promises of change and resolve. I was working over 80 hours a week and had not had a day off in 3 months, out of exhaustion and frustration I told my leader that I did not trust him and he would have to prove to me that things would change. He told me to go home because he refused to work with someone that spoke curses over him. His wife found out what I said, found me having a breakdown in the prayer room and for over an hour she rebuked and scolded me, telling me every single thing she ever thought about me. I have never in all my life felt such pure hate from another human being toward me. I took 2 weeks to go and recoup and get some perspective at a neighbor base in Melbourne only to find too many "refugees" of my base in Adelaide- people who fled and came there to recover. I was then met by more than half a dozen leaders on separate occasions who sympathized with me explaining that they knew what my leader was like and how dysfunctional, abusive, and neglectful he was as a leader. The more YWAM leaders who attempted to sympathize with me, the more infuriated and isolated I began to feel realizing that all of the people who had the authority to hold my leader accountable for his repeated actions were not only aware of it, but were also unwilling to utilize their authority to protect staff and students leaving them vulnerable and (essentially) doomed. I came back to Adelaide only to find that my leader's wife had not gotten everything off her chest and she encouraged other staff members to do the same. I spent my first day back being chased down, yelled at, and berated by her and other staff members she had encouraged to do so. A few days later I handed in my resignation with a month's notice to train someone, of their choosing, to replace me in the various jobs I had taken on in the year that I had spent there. A secret meeting was held and I was fired- a fact to which I found out by happenstance two weeks later. I spent the remaining month completely ostracized with the occasional gatherings and meetings to be reminded how hated and what a trouble maker I was in their eyes. I did not handle finding out I had been fired or the continual confrontations well. The day I left the national director of YWAM Australia, a man informed of my situation, and I crossed paths. He asked me how things were going and when I informed him that I was actually going home he said, "Oh good. I was going to tell you that you should either find another base or go home." One more leader who preferred label me the problem instead of addressing the true issue.

I returned to America, to my home, a shriveled, heaping mess of tears and anguish. My days were filled with terrors, feeling those members of Adelaide staff around every corner- seeing them in crowds. And my nights were filled with nightmares of their continued and repeated acts of hatred and neglect, waking shaking, sweating and crying. I cried day and night for a month straight. I tried to get back into my church that had financially supported me, being in a great position of need now more than ever. I was denied a meeting to my former youth pastor and my head pastor by the missions director at the time saying that they were too busy and she would determine if a meeting was necessary. During that meeting with her she informed me of the various ways that I should get involved in the church and give back despite everything I shared with her that happened in Australia. I was denied any meeting with the pastors. I eventually left First Assembly feeling that I was neither wanted nor protected there. I remained in my former youth pastor's small group, despite my having already left the church, still feeling some sort of obligation to both my mother church and my friends there. Almost a year after returning to America, I finally got a meeting with my former youth pastor. Out of curiosity, he wanted to hear my story of what happened in Australia and when I shared it with him he instructed me to find another church.

So that's my story, a small summarized part of it anyway. The truth is I want to heal my past. I've been trying to heal my past because forgetting it is out of the question, but I've since learned that healing it is quite out of the question as well. I can't heal the past anymore than I can rewind, but I believe that the past can be redeemed and through that redemption there is healing. The only step I can see, at present, toward that hope is in joining with others who have been through similar traumas and heartaches. I'm sure some will chastise me for my candor and transparency and all I can say to that is that what is hidden cannot be touched by the light. I hope that light will infiltrate not only my heart and life, my wounds and my mind, but that it will infiltrate arenas of great trauma such as First Assembly, Trinity College and YWAM; not simply for my sake, but for all our sakes.

"I'm gonna hold my breath. Let's all hold our breath together and turn this graveyard into a garden and grow from here...but it has to hurt if it's to heal...it's gonna hurt before it heals...it'll hurt but it will heal, I'm starting to believe it."- Failing is not just for failures by Listener

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Love in Anxiety

For so many of us, anxiety &/or depression are an unwelcomed reality. It's not something we've chosen or can choose away, it simply is. And whether it's the fault of being dealt a shitty hand or whether it's the fault of incidents big and small, it simply is and that's a reality that can't be prayed away or willed away; though I desperately wish it could sometimes.

For me, anxiety hits me in different ways at different times. Sometimes it's a physical onslaught of panic attacks berating my body, wearing me down. Sometimes it's all mental- consuming, distracting thoughts like thousands of mosquitos that I feel takes all my attention and energy to keep swatting away lest they land and leave a painful bite. Regardless of how it hits me, whenever and however anxiety comes, it leaves me feeling drained and empty. 

As such, I feel very little left over for God. I feel His presence, but lack the capacity to engage mine with His. I feel His nearness, but have not the strength or the means to move closer to Him. A fact I feel no shame for- it's the reality of any dark season; our capacity shrinks and transforms into a great and infinite need for more of Him- something He gives without question or prerequisites. 

After waking up this morning feeling rested and refreshed, I wanted to thank God for His loyalty- for sticking with me and by me even when I have nothing to give or offer. But as I penned the word, it felt so wrong. "Loyalty...loyalty...loyalty?" No. No it's beyond "loyalty"...it's love. And I felt that. I feel that. It's so beyond some sacred sense of duty that He hangs so closely. It's so beyond some bond or obligation or allegiance to those He cares for...no, it's love. 

When I am worn thin by anxiety and have nothing to offer, He doesn't pick me up and hold me out of loyalty- it's love. 

When I am preoccupied with keeping the thoughts and fears from taking over, when I am consumed with keeping my own thoughts from budging or giving way; He doesn't remain near out of duty- it's love. 

When I'm beaten and overcome, He doesn't step in simply because He promised to do so- it's love. 

I don't always feel it. I can't always spare the mental energy to comprehend it or entertain it, no matter how lovely the thought. But I know it. And on good days when there is air to be breathed and I don't feel my chest tightening, threatening to undo me, I relish in the truth of it. I can't say that knowing I'm loved has any real effect on anxiety- it's not some magic pill- but it removes any shame that could possibly slip in and allows me the freedom to be in this and deal with this knowing someone is with me not because they have to be, but because they love to be. 

It's love. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"How on earth are you still following God?"

When I tell people parts of the chapters in my story where I was burned by the church, by ministry, pastors, leaders, and organizations, I get the same response almost every time: a dropped jaw and the question, "How on earth are you still following God?"

In many ways I'm still trying to find the appropriate response to that question because sometimes I wonder myself. Sometimes I'll answer that it was because I found a really good church that gave me hope, trumping all the ways I'd seen it done wrong. Sometimes I'll credit the people in my life that made me feel okay and gave me space to be angry; trustworthy people who demonstrated true care and love. Sometimes the answer feels like that it's because God followed me during those betraying times. Other times the answer feels like God rescued me from the church, ministry, pastors, etc. While they're all true in some way, I'm wondering what grace or encouragement any of those answers truly give to the hearers.

That question, "How on earth are you still following God?" is rising out of some part of someone's story (maybe theirs). I wonder if what they're really saying is, "How on earth are you still following God after going through all that when (fill in a name) went through the same thing and they're/I'm not following God now?" Maybe they're thinking, "I couldn't go through that and still trust God." (Because the only ones you follow are those you trust). I don't know what people are saying, what underlying scar or memory is crying out under that question, but it makes me think about my answers to that question.

If the answer to how I can still manage to follow Him is because of a good church- where does that leave the one who can't bear to be in a church parking lot because of the anxiety and panic it gives them? Where does that leave those who are still afraid of church and what church might say or do, or how church might turn and betray them? Where does that leave those who can't find a good church? Well they're up shit creek without a paddle.

If the answer is having the right people in my life- where does that leave the people who, after having left their church, were ostracized (excommunicated), left completly isolated and alone? Where does that leave the ones who keep getting burned by all the wrong people? Where does that leave the ones who can't tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys? They're on their own with just them, their pain, their memories, and the emptiness.

If the answer to sticking with God is God sticking with me- where does that leave the people who feel abandoned by God? Does that mean that you can't find God because God left you? Well then why'd He leave?! What in the hell does that mean for you and everyone else?! They're left confused and hurt, feeling more abandoned than they did before.

If the answer to being able to still follow God, no matter the burns, is because God rescued me from those people and places that burned me- what does that say to the people who can't recover? What does that mean for the people who feel like they had to rescue themselves? Does that mean that God chose not to rescue them but did choose to rescue others? Does that mean God simply didn't want them? Where does that leave those too battered to save themselves in need of a someone to save them aka a Savior?

So whereas these answers may console and bring some sort of resolution to me, they utterly destroy my fellow wounded veterans of the church. It doesn't make them any less true, but it does make them less appropriate. None of those answers have much chance of affirming someone else's journey, just my own.

So what do you say to a question like that? Someone has resonated with your story, with your experience, and yet cannot comprehend its ending...what do you say?

Simply put, I don't know how to answer that question except to let the question be- to let it echo into The Void in hopes that it will collide with something somewhere and bounce back to them whispers of life. I can't answer how on earth I am still following God without risking collateral damage. But this I can say that God is not okay with what happened to me, to you, or to us. He is bothered by what happened. It does not sit well with Him and it does not go unnoticed, you do not go unnoticed. And regardless of how, the very thought of that makes me want to follow Him a little while longer.

 

 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

If Being Like You Commentary

At the beginning of August I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. These songs were a product of needing to process and talk throug issues long met with silence. Now a tangible compilation, I feel a deep need and desire to invite others into those very processes and conversations that are woven around and within each song. That's why every week I'm holding a live stream Q&A via Periscope to open up discussions about each song, to give greater insight and hopefully to receive some from you the listener.

Last week I shared about my song At The Lighthouse, the first song on the album. This week I'm changing things up slightly and I'm going to share the story behind this week's song, If Being Like You, here on my website and use the live Q&A to answer questions and give fun facts and inside scoops to the song. After the live stream I'll post another blog with the script of what was talked about on the livestream for those who weren't able to or aren't able to make it.

The Story

I worked as a volunteer for 2 years with a religious humanitarian organization. Since I was 15 I had been making choices and planning my steps based on the idea that I would live my life overseas in service to others, but when I got over there I felt the ill-fitting nature of what I had sewn for myself; it didn't fit and it didn't feel natural. Not only was I wrestling with trying to fit in a box too small but I was having to fight to survive and protect myself under abusive and exploitative leaders and conditions. It was orchestrated, I believe, to push me out so that I could find a better way and push me out it did.

So I came back to my hometown of Gainesville, Florida and I returned to my church that had supported me financially and had once been a very close family for me- I hoped they would be again. But, I wasn't the same person they sent 2 years prior. I was beaten and battered and fragile. I was desperate for help and I was in a place of re-evaluating and questioning everything since nothing had worked for me.

I was perfectly comfortable in this space. I felt confident and assured that that space was exactly where I needed to be. I was finding God there. I could breathe there. But no one in that church was comfortable with me being in that space; it made them nervous and suspicious of me. So they began to push me out right around the time that I began stepping out having realized that I was, again, trying to fit into something that was ill-fitting. But before I left, I wrote this song from the outside looking in.

I was labeled as one that had "fallen away" and was lobbed into the ranks of all the secular heathens going to hell (which I was kinda okay with. People are nicer over here). This song wasn't written from a point of being upset with how I personally was treated, but moreso from an angle of being upset with how they were treating everyone else- everyone that wasn't in their club aka their church; how they talked about the world and the people in it with such condescending eyes and words so drenced in judgement. I saw or heard nothing of God. This song is what I saw.

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So that's the story behind If Being Like You. You can listen to it here or you can download your own copy of Pissed at the Praxy on iTunes.

Tune in to the live Q&A on Periscope Monday, August 24 @7pm on Periscope. You can send me your questions ahead of time using the hashtag "#IBLYQandA". Hope to see you then!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

At The Lighthouse Q&A Notes

At the beginning of this month I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. And although I've always respected artistic restraint in letting the interpretation be at the listener's disposal, I felt the need and desire to invite my listeners into the stories and secrets behind and within each song. Being pissed at the praxy opened up my eyes to look at everything in a new way, one that allowed me to see a clearer glimpse of a God that I wanted to know- a God who, oddly enough, was nothing like the one I had been giving up so much for. So that's why I'm doing these Q&A's. That's why I'm telling my story. I want to let you know you're not alone. I want to be vulnerable and share these stories with you, maybe hear yours, and let's talk about this stuff that is felt so deeply and that which needs to be given space and grace to be felt.

The Story

For two years I worked as a volunteer for a religious humanitarian organization. My last year with that organization was working in Adelaide, South Australia and it was the most wretched season of my life to date. One, because I was working in a very dysfunctional, abusive, and neglegent environment and two, because I myself was driven by very self-destructive beliefs. A broken person working for broken people in a broken environment only begets more brokenness and I was feeling the toxicity of my lifestyle and my choices come to a head.

I was six months into it and had decided enough was enough. I couldn't take it anymore. So I decided to quit and go home yet awoke the next morning with doubts. I couldn't simply save myself, you see. I had to be told what to do like the good little soldier I was trained to be. So I went to the only place in Adelaide I had ever felt any kind of hope or peace to demand and wait on God for His instructions on whether or not I should stay and suffer or save myself and quit, so I went to Port Adelaide and I waited at the lighthouse there by the ocean. I waited and I waited and I waited. I scribbled on pages in my notebook, "should I stay or should I go?" over and over again until the words blackened the page. I was desperate for God to speak to me. I kept throwing out these crazy challenges like, "Okay if I'm supposed to stay have someone come up to me and say _____." And when that didn't happen, "Okay if I'm supposed to go have that man pick up that piece of paper on the ground." And nothing would happen. I was desperate for a sign. I felt I was on the verge of drowning and I needed God to speak so that I could justify saving myself. But He didn't speak. The sun began to set and Port Adelaide wasn't the safest part of town so I left because it was simply no longer wise to stay. I left feeling abandoned, hopeless, ignored, and left to drown. I figured that it was better to stay and suffer through it than to leave and learn that He had wanted me to stay.

Five months later God would speak about the lighthouse. One day the shit really hit the fan making it impossible for me to stay. I finally felt that last chord that held me duty bound be cut and the image of the lighthouse and the wisdom and common sense that met me there saying, "It is no longer wise to stay." began to play in my mind. And I realized He had spoken, He hadn't left me to drown, He had heard me and He was using the lighthouse to save me now.

Why It's Important to Me

There's no pretty little bow at the end of this song, no hope to wrap it up nice and neat. This song dwells in the frustration of that moment, it recognizes it and validates it. Yes, God would speak, but I didn't know it in that moment and those feelings I felt there at the lighthouse in Port Adelaide were very real and raw and demanded to be felt as all pain does. It was accepting that frustration and letting it have its way that allowed me to see things myself and my choices and my environment in a new light. The lighthouse may not have shone that night, but my frustration acted as a light for awhile- revealing things that had long been hidden by a lifetime of good behavior and duty. And that's why this is the first song on the album because it marks the beginning of this journey Home.

Lyrics

Verse 1: I waited at the lighthouse for someone to come and save me for some word to come and raise my sinking boat. All my anchors had failed me. Sea and kraken had scared me close to that cape where light should wave some hope amidst the shadows. I waited at the lighthouse for any kind of sign but the silence gave voices to my doubts.

*All my anchors had failed me... [Before I left in 2010 to live overseas, I had a dream that I was at the airport saying goodbye to my family with tears in my eyes and I turned to get onto the airplane and Jesus was standing there with his right hand stretched out to me and He took me by the left hand and walked with me onto the plane. Anytime I was scared or felt alone or needed to feel Him I would clench my left fist in remembrance of that dream. About 3 months after the scene at the lighthouse I asked God to speak to me again, any word at all to get me through and He told me "holdfast". I looked it up and a holdfast is an anchor and I remembered my dream and I was reminded that I just needed to holdfast to Him, that He was my anchor. That is what that lyric recalls for me and it represents that feeling I had that God had let go of me, that my anchor, everything I held onto in fact, had failed me.]

Chorus: This ship is going down down and I'm going down with it. I am damned to the depths if someone doesn't save me now. I'm going down.

Verse 2: I waited at the lighthouse wishing, praying, begging should I stay or abandon ship now? I had no captain to steer me. No wind or waves to console me. The bottom of the ocean knows me by name and it beckons loud. One last chance dear lighthouse. Cast a glance my way. If you don't I'll give my last breath to curse you as I drown.

*One last chance dear lighthouse. Cast a glance my way... [I remember as it was getting dark and I realized that I may actually have to leave without an answer, I remember being so angry with God saying, "Are you seriously going to let me leave and not say anything?!" I was furious. I demanded He speak, on the verge of making any threat that would make Him speak.]

Verse 3: I waited at the lighthouse. Darkness ever grew with no light to answer to. Overwhelmed by orphaned demands. Salty tears lost in the sea. All my sails bleached by failure, I surrender my challenge to the deep.

*[It's that whole scene at the end of my story: the sun is setting, I know I can't stay and at the same time I know that leaving means I surrender. I raised my white flag and I gave into fears and lies and shame and pride. I stayed because I could not save myself because I could not accept that I was worth saving.]

Q&A

Q: @wordsbyshay- "Can you tell more about the 'ship' you refer to in the song?"

A: The "ship" is me. As a ship relies on a lighthouse to guide its way to safety in a dark storm, so I was waiting at the lighthouse for the same rescue.

Q: @jadefrances4- "What song stretched you the most vocally? What about instrumentally? Emotionally? Why?

A: Vocally- If Being Like You. It was the most bluesy song I had ever done which made it a stretch but since my voice has dropped about 3 octaves since recording it, it would literally be a huge stretch to try and sing that song again. Instrumentally- Selah because of its complexities and the focus being the instruments rather than my voice or words. Emotionally- At The Lighthouse and The Cobblestone Road by far! I had to really sit with these songs after I wrote them. They both flowed so beautifully but as soon as they were on the page, I could only weep from the raw and barren nature of the memories that had just bled out on the page. I've also found them incredibly healing as such.

Q: @jadefrances4- "What has been the most challenging part of this process?"

A: VULNERABILITY! These songs represent some of my most delicate and fragile moments and some of my most precious. To not only share them for others to hear, but to share them with the knowledge that I'm going to share ABOUT them has proven to be a challenge. Fear of being so naked and exposed by my songs has made me want to hold back and withdraw many a time along this process, but it's also made me press on because I believe one person's vulnerability can make another feel safe and not feel so alone- it has the potential to bring people together and that's what I want. That makes the uncomfortability of being vulnerable worth it. Because we are not alone.

Q: @jsorgi- 'What brought you out of that depravity/ what ended that depravity?'

A: Frustration. That frustration with how things weren't working made me look deeper and that revealed all the deeper issues that were only aiding and abetting my world of dysfunction and self-destruction. I've never been so thankful for frustration. Anger is simply a stage of grieving and repressing and supressing that anger only delays one's healing. I think Pissed at the Praxy is really a representaion of the stages of grieving actually now that I think about it.

ending

Thank you all so much for your questions, for tuning in, and for listening and supporting Pissed at the Praxy. Feel free to email me privately here or on facebook or twitter with any more questions or comments. If you've ever felt hopeless or mad at God for not speaking, ever felt ignored or abandoned by Him, I get it and I'm here if you want to talk and process some of that with someone who's been there. I don't just want to do all the talking. I'm here and I'm available and ready to listen. :-)

 

Love,

Stephanie Gray

 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pissed at the Praxy Commentary

Last week I released my first full length album, Pissed at the Praxy. These songs were a product of needing to process and talk through issues long met with silence. Now a tangible compilation, I feel a deep need and desire to invite others into those very processes and conversations that are woven around and within each song.

I've always respected and looked up to those artists that refrained from being obvious and let the meaning and motivation behind their songs be left up for interpretation (restraint that is incredibly difficult to hold). But, this album isn't just a story, it is a commentary in and of itself- a commentary that was birthed out of tension, a tension that Silence and Unease bore.

I want to meet with you here. I want to, not only tell the story that each song holds- unveiling secrets, treasures, and emotions within- but I want to dialogue about them. I want to hear your thoughts and opinions and questions. Let's ask them together. Let's unveil them together. Let's tell our stories.

So for the next few weeks I'm going to be hosting live online discussions via Periscope app (Download Here) around each individual song. I want to share the story, yes, but I also want to answer your questions. Each week I'll announce which song is up for discussion on social media with a specific hashtag for you to use to send me your questions, discussion points you'd like to hit, or your thoughts via twitter, facebook, or instagram. Following the live stream, I'll post a blog with a written script of what was talked about for future reference and for those who maybe can't make the livestream. I'm really looking forward to this and I hope that you'll join me.

To start this off I want to tell you the story and the meaning behind the album title because I think that will give a great platform from which to start these discussions.

The Story

Pissed- adj. annoyed, very angry

Praxy- noun. origin: Greek (taken as a stem of "praxeology"); study of human action and conduct, esp. in relation to one's orthodoxy (practice or doctrine).

I was raised in a church that was adamant towards its views on how a christian should live, behave, and appear; views that were harsh, demanding, and costly. It was engrained in me that if it doesn't hurt, if it isn't hard, then you're doing something wrong and so I Iived for difficult and, essentially, abusive situations believing that it was proof of my love and proximity to God- proof for Him and for me. This thinking helped direct me to a Bible college to study World Missions. It was my intent to get my BA in World Missions, graduate, and move overseas to live the rest of my life as a missionary. I cut my time short there having only been met with arduous resistance by the staff and students to my being a woman in ministry; I was worn out by their insane shovenism and closemindedness and so I graduated early and left to pursue my role as a missionary with an organization called Youth With A Mission. My innauguration into the organization was a smooth transition, my commitment to stay in it, however, was brutal. I staffed on a base in Australia for almost a year. Looking back I can say that I had to feel the extremes of my praxeology that inevitably followed my toxic orthodoxy in order to truly understand how ill-fitting, unnatural, and heavy they were; and feel the extremes of them I did. The toxicity and dysfunction of my environment only helped to speed up the revelation that needed to come which was: This is not right. And so I left and returned to the US so broken and feeble and wounded that for the first month I wept day and night. I came home and went back to the church in which I was raised only to find that it too was ill-fitting, unnatural, and heavy. I could not find any trace of God there, not that I was welcome to remain there anyway. I was broken. I needed help. This untamed reality frightened and unnerved them and therefore they encouraged me to leave (a fact I had already gladly come to terms with). And so I left that church. I left that way. And I began to find God, for the first time I think.

Frustration had been brewing for years towards the praxeology I was seeing around me, but when that frustration turned inwards and I began to become frustrated towards my own praxeology- when I could no longer tolerate my own orthodoxy- that's when I started to see, that's when I started to feel free. Leaning into those frustrations, giving ear to them and allowing space for them to be whatever and however they were going to be, was like a steady slew of rain kissing a dry and parched land cracking from the heat and neglect.

Pissed at the Praxy, for me, is not about anger or frustration, but rather, about where that anger and frustration took me. I never believed that anger or frustration had any place in a christian's life, but I am so glad I let it wreak its havock on my wretched beliefs. I've never been so thankful.

Behind the Scenes

The actual name of the album came about because of a song I wrote called "If Being Like You". I had just recorded and was about to release my second EP called "Eve of Regret". On the tail end of recording that EP I wrote and recorded "If Being Like You". It had absolutely no place on Eve of Regret and I knew that there would be more songs to follow. I looked at where I was at, what I was feeling, and where I was headed and "pissed at the praxy" just seemed pretty fitting.

Questions

So what are your thoughts?

Have you had similar experiences? If so, did you (and how did you) encounter frustration?

What does the album title mean to you?

 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I think I'm done

I've been trying to blog for some months now. So many posts left unfinished or abandoned all together. It's not that there has been an absence of inspiration, but that inspiration would always bring about thoughts or feelings that I was always unwilling or uneager to share with the public. Sometimes such ugliness and jadedness and disdain would surface in these posts and sometimes such delicate beauty would emerge; both were private and were handled accordingly. Enough posts like that and one begins to think. 
That's why I don't think I'll be blogging anymore. 

I've wrestled with this resolution for quite sometime. If my blog was made of ink and paper, I'd of set it on fire a hundred times by now. But I finally came to some peace in it when I discovered the great disagreement between the way I communicate in person and the way I communicate on my blog. 

When I am with someone, it is not until I feel safe that I even consider sharing my heart (my feelings, my thoughts, my opinions, my ideas) and I don't utter them until I have some sense that the hearer feels safe as well; and it is by their comfort level that I temper what and how much of myself that I share. But when it comes to blogging, my ideas are my ideas and, although consideration for the reader is taken into some account, I operate from an isolated safety- safety in the distance and the disconnect. I can say whatever I want really and if you don't like it, well then, you don't have to read it; and you, well you can reject me and my ideas without ever having to face me. 

Now let me take this time to say that I, in no way, am against blogging. My life has been saved and shaped by blog posts that I still cling to. This blog even, has been a saving grace- helping me to process and to find my voice again when I had lost and forgotten it. I owe a huge debt to blogs! 

But I am no longer in a place where I find myself needing to process from a place of isolated safety, I find myself needing and wanting to process with people- my people; people who make me feel safe and heard as well as people who graciously entice and stretch my thinking, tantalizing me with new perspectives and sharper questions. I want conversations. I want connection. I want to see your face and hear your voice, to feel your presence and be affected by it. 

I feel as if I am Truman, having found the very limits of the world which was created for him, The Truman Show, and leaving it to find the world that lives outside his own. Perhaps I'll need to process this way again someday, I'm sure I will. But for now, I think I'm done. 

Come and find me someday. Let's have a cup of coffee. Let's talk. Let's feel each others presence and engage with words that are not our own. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What Dreams May Come


In the film What Dreams May Come starring the late Robin Williams and Annabella Sciorra, a married couple, after literally going to hell and back to find each other after death, decide to leave heaven to be reborn in order to experience finding each other anew all over again; trusting that their love would bring them back to each other even in another life. 

It makes me wish that I could be reborn, live again, and experience both finding Him and being found by Him all over again, totally anew and afresh. And I wonder, would I know Him better?

Would I know Him better if I were void of all the influences that I've faced? Would I know Him better if I were free of all the religious expectations I've encountered? Would I know Him better if I didn't grow up in churches so eager to perfect my imperfections, modify my behavior, demanding and requiring so much? 

Oh if I could go back to the canvas and start again- my canvas that holds everything I perceive Him to be and how I perceive Him to be it. I wouldn't give people such free access to my canvas, my paints and my brushes simply because they bear a certain lable or come recommended by another who wears a lable of the same kind. These influences are specks in my eye, blocking and frustrating my vision. And although one by one they are being dealt with and erradicated, something always lingers and I wonder if I will ever be rid of it. The speck may be gone, but the voices remain. Or the voices are silenced but the wounds left by them are still present. Will I ever be rid of the hideous ideas I allowed into my life, onto my canvas? 

I'd take the paint brush away from the youth groups that didn't have time for children, only "spritual warriors"; I wouldn't let them touch my canvas with their rules of modesty, their idea of what "truly living" looks like, their demands for "spiritual maturity" desguised as religiousity. 
I'd take the paint brush away from the Bible college I attended that assaulted my canvas and my space with ideas that women are second to men; I wouldn't have stuck around for the abuse. 
I'd take away the paint brush from the many religious leaders running exploitive volunteer organizations manipulating me into laying down my rights and sacrificing beyond what is healthy.

But perhaps, in another life my paintbrushes would only be left to be picked up by other abusers of influence. Perhaps my paint brush would be picked up by an abusive parent or a negligent father. Perhaps my paint brush would be picked up by war or racism. Perhaps my paint brush would be picked up by teachers who would make it impossible for me to suceed or neighbors who mollest me, or neighborhoods of violence and fear. 

I think in the end we've all had a pass or two made on our canvases that we regret having been made. I think in the end we were all powerless to stop them, unaware of the inhibiting specks being laid or the barriers being built. I think that if we could, we'd all go back and snatch the brushes and the colors away from all sorts of abusers of influence as we lay our bodies across our canvas in a stand to protect our perception of God. I think when we finally see Him, there'll be a lot more of these kinds of thoughts- maybe there are tables set for such conversations- a group therapy of sorts. Such abuses and uninvited passes have been being made on canvases since Eve met the snake in the Garden which gives me great hope for the kind of company of humbled ragamuffins that await me in the next life. 

Perhaps that is what awaits us in heaven, a rebirth; passing through the doors of death, all trust put in Love, into a Life of experience where I get to find Him and be found by Him all over again, anew, afresh, and uninhibbited- to get to know Him as He truly is. 

For now I wait for what dreams may come.

"Weak is the effort of my heart
And cold my warmest thought
But when I see Thee as Thou art
I'll praise Thee as I ought." - John Newton